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I had a strange thought some time ago. When movies like these come out, they aren’t the events that fans and filmmakers look back on and imagine. They’re movies with little concept of how much they’ll impact the world for the next thirty years and beyond. There is no futuristic city more quintessential than L.A. 2019, which isn’t far from now — but hopefully never comes to pass as it does in Ridley Scott’s apocalyptic cyber-fable.

The idea is so clean it’s almost painful. The story defines to me the beauty in science-fiction film, that of tight ideas which lead down fascinating roads of thought while maintaining and executing on a high concept premise. It isn’t just: “Bounty hunter tracks down and kills humanoid androids — STOP,” making it something like the more recent Surrogates, it’s “Bounty hunter tracks down and kills humanoid androids, an act that impacts the audience and characters on a moral and philosophical level, as these androids are distinguishable to humans only by a bizarre method of interrogation known as Voight-Kampff…”

In a recent interview with Cinemax to look back on Blade Runner during its 30th anniversary year, Ridley Scott revealed that Blade Runner was definitely his most personal film, though he followed that up with a moment of silence and thought and something like, “yeah, that’s it.” I suppose it makes since, not because Scott isn’t known for making films with very personal subjects (in that, he does everything from the Crusades and Columbus to espionage and modern warfare), but because Blade Runner is an emotional film that says quite a lot about humanity and violence — lofty themes atypical of science-fiction in film.

Because this is a sci-fi film, the emotion and that which says quite a lot are delivered in what we could call a non-traditional manner, considering the genres that do deal in these things more often than SF. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, or even character interaction, but there’s an unrelenting brooding about the atmosphere that looks pretty — though thirty years later it does show the construction behind its making — but hits you as a dead end for our kind, a shimmering monument to ourselves that’s choking out life and morality. Above all, it fills us with dread and loneliness, despite, or perhaps because of, the faceless crowds flowing in every direction, and being pelted with endless rain. It’s a perfectly impressionistic environment to house one man’s depressing, dehumanizing journey.

That’s exactly what Blade Runner is, this journey that chips away at Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), making it less of a dramatic tearjerker and more cerebral fare with a genuinely poigniant core. Characters struggle against forces beyond their control, whether it’s death or society (“If you’re not police you’re regular people”), and lose, even though the hero does achieve the dramatic need he establishes at the beginning of the movie.

LEGACY

Blade Runner also works because it’s one of the classic genre-mixers. It combines science-fiction with noir, a formula that’s sustained SF for years and years. In the context of this film, it’s a good blend, as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking hard-boiled is entirely justified in a bleak world where suddenly you can’t be sure of your own identity, and where the sky taunts you to join the “Off-World Colonies,” which I can’t imagine are any better than the ‘Hellscape’ of Los Angeles.

Anime in particular took to this new trope, referencing and embodying the movie in so many titles — but to no better effect than in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which does more than pay lip service to the visuals. In this 2004 sequel to Mamoru Oshii’s groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell, two police detectives scour the dark underworld of a futuristic Tokyo, maneuvering through yakuza strapped with illegal model cyborgs and the haunting, Gothic locales where minds can be easily lost to remote psychological warfare of the most invasive variety. Questions of humanity and the blur between flesh and metal — what Masamune Shirow refers to as the Man/Machine Interface — rise to the same effect, though in much clunkier, verbose terms.

Elements of Blade Runner have also found homes in America, in the oddest of places — anything from Mass Effect to Batman Begins. Science-fiction is great at capturing the imagination of fans and creators, and Blade Runner stands up there with Star Wars and Star Trek and frankly, has spawned better derivatives, which seem to be more venerating toward the source.

THE UNICORN

Maybe the greatest problem with the whole “Is Deckard a Replicant” thing is that he dreamt of a unicorn, and not an Electric Sheep. That would’ve solved it, put it down for good. Of course, there’s a bigger problem, that of harping on whether or not he’s a replicant, and proliferating the idea that it actually matters. What is gained from Deckard being a replicant? An idea, but only one that’s supplemental — the Philip K. Dick “aha!” at the end that gives us a notion about the world and the themes of the movie, a mechanic that Christopher Nolan most recently recycled in the ending of Inception. We are not meant to argue one way or the other, because that would be giving validity to something best experienced in its fleeting, epilogue form.

This is an issue of fandom, more specifically that of the science-fiction variety. This is odd because there are plenty of Philip K. Dick books out there with these kinds of endings — I think to Ubik immediately — but because there is no Ubik movie, there is no discussion, and Ubik is left alone as a thought-provoking, satisfying whole. It’s also an issue of medium, then. I think that we as audiences tend to value the literal over the figurative when it comes to movies, which unless established, portray things meant to be taken at face value. We’re seeing and hearing these ‘tangible’ things — they’re solid, concrete. When Deckard picks up that origami — it’s not the idea blending over the physical image and clouding our mind like it should.

This story format bias is interesting, but has only really haunted Blade Runner and a handful of others, as Blade Runner was brave but didn’t make its money back. It’s more of a cult success in line with The Thing and Streets of Fire, to name two movies from around that time, which often gives these movies its staying power. In the case of Blade Runner, it must just be that immortal question, that which is so backwards. In my mind, he’s a replicant insofar as he’s been dehumanized over the arc, but to say that creates a clash of how Scott sees the Android, and how Dick sees it.

In preparation for writing Nazi characters for his Hugo-award winning The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick did extensive and disturbing research, becoming fascinated by how robotic and callous people can be. He drew on that in his creation of the ‘andys’ in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, creating what were essentially empathetically-challenged humans, which Scott takes one step further. The replicants in Blade Runner are sympathetic, some more than others, but in the end, Roy is entirely human. But he’s a replicant. In the end, Deckard is a figurative replicant, but wouldn’t that mean that… he’s human? And besides, he’s also supposedly a replicant for real…?

I suppose it’s more to do with the blurring of the two. It’s not so much where one begins and ends, but that we as people are becoming colder, or have been cold and this city is a mirror, and this is how we can shoot a human woman in the back, in front of the endless crowds.

BLADE RUNNER, 2019

The future of Blade Runner is a recent development with the announcement of a sequel, which is definitely one of those sequels that’s always been ‘possible,’ but never really plausible. On one hand, it’s a shame, as Blade Runner has always felt more in line with great science-fiction literature, and should stand alone as a great story with a beginning, middle, and end, but on the other, this is great news.

Thinking on it, the things that made Blade Runner a true classic could be done again. It’s just… science-fiction in film isn’t a thinking man’s genre, and the current state of SF is best summed up in the Syfy Channel*: “We just don’t give a fuck.” Granted, there are surprises every now and then, and hopefully Blade Runner 2 will surprise us all. If it doesn’t, that’s fine. This is how I view things, after The Thing remake: I love John Carpenter’s The Thing as a fan of film. It’s a great movie with memorable characters and moments that shock and reinforce the bleakness. I love the new The Thing as a fan of general science-fiction because I love the story’s setup, and the things it can do. The Antarctic setting, the monster itself, the infighting — it’s not the best it’s been, but it’s more.

The world of Blade Runner has also had time to develop. Cyberpunk was born in 1982 and died ten years or so later. It saw a lot of classics, like Akira, the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell and its TV series Stand Alone Complex, Strange Days, Deus Ex, and even to some extent the Terminator franchise, though that’s been missing an entirely new world to populate. That’s what Blade Runner 2 can offer right now, when we know so little about it. A world — and if it’s anywhere near the original’s, it’ll be a good day for science-fiction fans.

But we’ll bitch anyway.

 

*Rant incoming

(Not that any future plans on this site should be trusted. I’d like to do that but once I said I’d do a retrospective on Mamoru Oshii and then I said I’d do a Ghost in the Shell retrospective and then a Wire recap… Someday)

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Like Prometheus, I guess I never really truly imagined the day would come. Prometheus doesn’t even feel real to me — the Alien cycle is the closest thing to Star Wars I have in terms of movie fandom, and not even those damn dirty execs want to touch that franchise after two clunky AVP flicks. Prometheus won’t have the iconic Xenomorph, but it’s got Stringer Bell, so the excitement factor is through the roof. 2012 is officially the next 2009 — John Carter, Prometheus, Total Recall, Cosmopolis, even The Avengers (which was good!), and I suppose The Dark Knight Rises (don’t care!) — and now I’m hearing news that a real live, actual factual Blade Runner sequel is on the books, but for truth? It’s a good time to be a scifi fan, at least on the big screen. On TV… I don’t know. People seem to like that AMC zombie show.

On June 1st, Prometheus lands (using Halo marketing-speak), and it’s success will not only signal the future of this series within a series, but how Blade Runner 2 might shake out. In my opinion, Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie since Gladiator — but has he had to? Most filmmakers can’t lay a claim to three of the greatest movies ever: Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, in this case, but Ridley Scott can. But now he’s doing something very, very important to the landscape of science-fiction — coming back to it.

Sure, we may tire of retreads and sequels, but the universe of Blade Runner at least, is rich (Alien is often said to be better unexplored, I agree) and inhabiting a subgenre screaming out to be revisited — hasn’t been done proper since ’03, though we’ve been getting recent respites in other fronts like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and a Ghost in the Shell… Lucas Special Edition every so often. All of these things have been hugely influenced by the 1982 greatest-SF-movie-of-all-time, and have roots in cyberpunk’s 90s glory days. I’d love to return, and maybe this new Blade Runner will usher in a new generation of creators tuned into artificial intelligence and cyborg proxy soldiers, to whom the name “Tetsuo” means spinning dick-drills and giant nuclear babies that explode and destroy Tokyo.

I wonder if this new Blade Runner will be influenced at all by the over-the-top Japanese sensibilities that were themselves influenced by the original tech-noir, and the debut novel of the godfather of cyberpunk. That would be a strange and rare cycle between east and west that I’ve only so far seen in westerns. There’s a back and forth in the lineage of chambara (that the right term?) samurai and westerns, which are linked thematically; each generation become spritual successors of each other — between Ford, Kurosawa, Leone, and now Miike. It’s interesting, and if it happened to cyberpunk I feel like it’d be as natural.

Although thematically all cyberpunk is pretty much the same — what is human? What… do robots do? How fun would VR really be? — and not as poetic in this regard with the gunslinger/samurai, ritualistic violence and honor parallel, Blade Runner might use a touch of exploration, though being novel certainly didn’t help it commercially the first time around. I just think that by 2016, maybe 2017 when considering a two-three year turnaround time for Scott (after a movie set in the Middle East following Prometheus), we’ve seen it all. Cyberpunk was considered dead — for Christ’s sake there’s a subgenre called postcyberpunk — Blade Runner’s had its day in the sun.

Look Familiar?

But there is something interesting, something I like to stress as often as its relevant (not often) is women in science-fiction. Two of the most inexpilcably successful SF franchises of the day — Resident Evil, going five strong and soon to be six, and Underworld, on its fourth — feature female protagonists. So we’re getting there, but how about good characters, and good movies? Alien was both, and we’ll get that again with Noomi Rapace in Prometheus — and then with Blade Runner 2, believe it or not.

Some of the earliest news on this recent development is that Scott and co. (Hampton, but so far no Peoples, I gather) are pursuing a strong female lead, and this is very exciting.

So what’s to concern over?

Well, I suppose that this is just another in the line of redos and continuations of old properties, but hey — Blade Runner is Blade Runner. I love The Thing ’82, so I was super-excited when the new one was coming out, but Blade Runner is like… personal top five, and without a doubt the greatest science-fiction movie of all time. More of the same would be a hell of a thing.

For more on Blade Runner, check out the Blade Runner Directory

We’ve talked about the movie’s thematic structure, how Rick Deckard becomes a robot over the course of the movie, having started out not far removed, and how Roy Batty is humanized as he accelerates toward his engineered death. The only weak link in the narrative extends from this point – the tears in rain monologue was of course very telling of Roy Batty’s character as human, but it was meant to reflect on Rick Deckard as a replicant. One of the endings of Blade Runner (never filmed) was Deckard taking Rachel up north and shooting her in the back, which would have worked perfectly after the monologue scene, where our hero must embrace the robot he’s become.

Of course, what we have in the Director’s Cut, which in my opinion is the most best Cut (I hate that I even have to make the distinction) is the taste that lingers – ambiguity, as some see it. I see it as a clever bookend and a confirmation on what we’ve observed earlier, that Deckard is in some sense a replicant, and the preface to a truncated denoument.

Of course, had Blade Runner shown Deckard shooting Rachel, which we may or may not infer happens after the credits, it may have suffered Boyz N the Hood syndrome: we didn’t have to be shown (or told, rather blandly) that Doughboy dies young, it’s been implied internally in the narrative. Not only that, but it seems to be pounding the sadness of the South Central situation on to near excess. So maybe we don’t need to see the guy shoot the girl, because it is in some way implied – as an extension of Deckard as dehumanized robot – but I see too many pros over cons to the scene.

Running with this thematic thing, the hypothetical shooting of Rachel serves only the plot, a payoff to the various discussions of “No [I wouldn’t come after you]. But somebody would,” but an actual displayed shooting of Rachel would have a grave tragedy to it because of the visceral nature of the act itself – its power lies in its existence, which sounds stupid, so in other words we need to see it in order for it to work. This is film, after all.

Rachel walks out into a clearing and Deckard is there behind her (I believe while snow is falling) mulling it over with that stoic and shadowed face, and then shoots her and walks off. He doesn’t like it, but he’s not human anymore, and this is the demonstration of that fact. That would solidify the themes whereas now what we’re sort of stuck with is endless ambiguity. Will Deckard and Rachel live a happy life together? (I guess that’s explored in the sequel novels – Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human through Blade Runner 4: Eye and Talon) Is Deckard a replicant? Will Gaff ever find true love?

So basically Blade Runner‘s ending should be like what Jin-Roh has. Kill the girl, embrace the wolf.

It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again – who does?
For more on Blade Runner, check out the Blade Runner Directory

The troubled production of Blade Runner and the various Cuts of the movie put out over the years by different parties gives credence to the idea that very few of its makers fully grasped exactly what the movie was about. Some argued that Deckard wasn’t a replicant, some preferred ambiguity. In one cut we see that Tyrell wasn’t killed, his replicant was, and he’s up on the top floor of the pyramid frozen like Walt Disney. How could this be? And how in the world does it turn out to be such a focused piece of literary science-fiction film? Perhaps there aren’t answers to such questions; the best we can do is look back on the masterful filmmaking and science-fiction storytelling that was at play back in ’82. This is a dark, intense, cerebral, and moving film, the very most important science-fiction movie ever made.

This is of course, only in my opinion, as most people believe movies like Metropolis, 2001, Star Wars, The Day the Earth Stood Still, maybe Solaris, or possibly Planet of the Apes to be the best SF movies of all time. Blade Runner usually comes in second or third – a good movie, but the best? I have this sometimes unique opinion because Ridley Scott’s finest hour fills out every requisite in my personal checklist of the standard of film.

Awhile ago I was going to publish a post akin to my ludicrous “To Ride a High Horse” post that was all about the “Standard of Film,” though it was more about how movies like Citizen Kane and Crank 2 are both great movies, but can’t be judged on the same plane. One has the aspirations to be a dramatic metaphor for America, and the other wants to be an adrenaline-pumped action masterpiece to rival HK cinema – they both succeed, but they’re different aspirations that appeal to different people: one happens to appeal to AFI. Anyhow, it’s not the time nor place for that – this new standard of film is something I concocted awhile ago and couldn’t find a new name for:

If a movie is going to succeed fully in my eyes it must be treated like a sudoku puzzle. Every element has to fit into place here, here, and here, lest it upset the balance and not work – if we do upset the balance with some superfluous element, some other filmmaker could take the movie and exchange the element for a better one. So every fabric of the movie should serve a higher purpose, and equally significant, the manner in which it’s stitched should be important and irreplaceable. Everything that happens in the movie must tie back to the thematic structure, and this is the foundation that the filmmakers will build off of with their own unique and personal ideas.

There are of course exceptions to this, like The Shawshank Redemption, those thematic framework isn’t necessarily the strongest, but it’s here to tell a damn good story, and it does, making it a truly great movie. Blade Runner on the other hand succeeds by being thematically dense – the paranoia, the questions of humanity and reality and morals, the film noir stylings, they’re everywhere in the images presented, in the dialogue, and embedded in deeper, subtler places.

What makes Blade Runner special is that the themes it addresses so meticulously are all fascinating and sometimes enlightening to me personally, and hopefully you too. Very phildickian, as one might imagine, despite it’s narrative departure from the beautifully titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s a movie that steps back from humanity by pushing us forward thirty-seven years into a smog-choked future to examine and ask question like only sci-fi can. By using death as a motive for the villains, it creates dual arcs that dovetail into a powerful climactic scene between very changed characters, and in this journey’s end we as the audience are privy to the measure of dehumanization. We’re also allowed time to reflect on all the ideas brought up over the course of the story.

I’ll try to get into it more in depth later, but the idea that death motivates our villain is so brilliant on so many levels. Not only does it make Roy Batty sympathetic and not a one-note mustache-twirling “Give me one-billion dollars lest I blow up the world” fool, it demonstrates that the acceptance that all things fade in time like tears in rain makes us human, and Rick Deckard watches on, now a replicant in spirit but not in flesh…

What seems to be the problem?
Death.

For more on Blade Runner, check out The Blade Runner Directory

Before we get into the pieces of Blade Runner I’ve found myself interested in, let’s go over the two men at the heart and soul of the film, Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick. Consider this, in addition, a prelude to another Dreck Fiction series, which I may or may not simply call: DICK.

Ridley Scott

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never been a fan of Ridley Scott. Body of Lies, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down – these movies range from mediocre to terrible, and I haven’t seen a movie of his after Gladiator that I’ve liked. At the same time, he’s got this holy trinity of films that I absolutely love: Alien, Gladiator, and of course, Blade Runner. He struck gold with these, and each of them are deep in visual, literary, and filmic ways.

Gladiator

Ridley Scott’s tale of Rome and its power players is both an epic and a personal story; it’s very much about one man set against a massive backdrop, and the scale of the film is handled well within the narrative’s solid structure, which effects quick pacing and consistent storytelling. It’s classic revenge saga, and it’s very old fashioned. There is positively no gray in this movie – Maximus is the flawless hero, and Commodus is the gross villain. We want to see one kill the other really badly.

The character’s journey is incredible, and Maximus’ reveal to the Emperor is one of the great cinematic moments in history. The movie isn’t even entirely stupid, which one might gather as it’s called Gladiator, and seemingly is all about gladiators fighting. It’s a movie about politics and society and power, but through it all it’s about heroism and fighting for what’s right. It’s a movie that gets you amped up, and if I had only one complaint, it’s one that developed over the years – it’s not nearly as violent as I remembered. I guess I’ve come to be a gorehound, unfortunately.

Alien

The most famous science-fiction horror film of all time, Alien leads the charge with The Fly, The Thing, and The Mist in that very, very small genre. I enjoyed Alien when I saw it many years ago, but oddly enough, I’ve only ever seen it that once. It’s bizarre to me because it’s place in science-fiction canon is known to all in the Kingdom of Nerds, but I always opt to rewatch Aliens.

Much has been said of the set pieces – the facehugger attack, the spacejockey, the chestburster, the final showdown – these are all memorable, and I saw them a dozen times before and a dozen times after viewing the movie in full. There’s not much I can add. I can say that I’m entirely too thankful for the story brought about by O’Bannon and Hill, which was a universe big enough to carry on in three more great movies, and small enough to stay mysterious, scary, and compelling.

Philip K. Dick

My exploration into the world of Philip K. Dick has been greatly augmented by Internet research: online various essays and speeches of his can be found, and very cheaply his titles can be purchased through Amazon. In addition to that is commentary spanning all mediums, including The Greatest Movie Ever Podcast, which occasionally touches upon the many film adaptations of Dick’s novels and short stories, all of which released after his death in 1982.

Philip K. Dick is one of the most interesting characters in science-fiction, as his writing is thoughtful and profound, dark and hilarious. Moments in A Scanner Darkly made me laugh out loud, and they were paired with moments that made me extremely bummed out – in a good way. I have so much to experience that’s written by Dick, I’m sure my realtive virgin status is envied by many of his fans. He definitely strikes me as one of those authors whose books necessitate multiple readthroughs, but the first will always be the most powerful journey.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

When I think cyberpunk, a few key titles come to my mind: Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. These titles established their own worlds, populated these worlds with characters, and explored ideas characteristic of cyberpunk. I see metal men, man/machine interfaces, AI, detectives, assholes, femme fatales, metropolises, future weapons, hackers – it’s all good stuff.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? stands out for me because it’s such a depressed novel. It builds a haze of depression that translates well into the smog that’s killed all the animals and is seen in Blade Runner. Cyberpunk works since have all had sad worlds, but there’s something about this particular world that really works on a deeper literary level. It is out to get the main character Deckard, and it’s always there to bring up questions of morality, humanity, and of course, reality.

Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick. One of them I’m very interested in. I can’t quite call myself a Dickhead in reference to reading his body of work, but I’m certainly intrigued and would like to know more. I think now I finally have the time to get some serious science-fiction reading in. Ridley Scott on the other hand is a director who hits and misses, but when he hits goddamn is it spot on.

Put these two together and you’ve got the start of Blade Runner. Of course, you can’t not mention Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and Douglas Trumbull… But I guess “Ridley and the Dick” sounded funniest to me.

For more on Blade Runner, check out The Blade Runner Directory

I should probably qualify this post; it isn’t meant to be an attack on Roger Ebert. Though he and I don’t always see eye to eye (Hereafter), his criticisms of scifi is generally unbiased and he was an Asimov kind of guy as a kid so I can respect that. However, his initial review of Blade Runner was exactly why movies like Blade Runner are being tampered with by the noncreative partners of production teams: the death of art.

The documentary on the making of Blade Runner, Dangerous Days, displayed two things, and I mentally connected them. There was a chapter dedicated to the post production and test screenings and all that. Someone famously decided that Harrison Ford should record a noir voiceover to clear up some of the ‘confusing’ elements. This was not the original intent of Ridley Scott, whose best film was being changed, though he eventually agreed to them. At the end of the behind-the-scenes doc, in discussion of the polarizing effect the film had on audiences, a big old block of white text faded onto black: an excerpt from Ebert’s review:

“He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that’s the trouble this time. Blade Runner is a stunningly interestingly visual achievement, but a failure as a story.”

This is the classic failure of critics in evaluating movies like Blade Runner and Once Upon a Time in the West. These movies forgo conventional characterization and storytelling in order to convey certain ideas. Calling the characters flat is ultimately defeating: it is not their purpose to be round, dynamic characters. Deckard’s arc is compelling, but dangerously unique. He descends toward inhumanity, but never takes the time to break down and cry or have a tense argument with other characters. Even Clive Owen in Children of Men did one of those, and that’s another movie that’s seemingly cold.

That of course is beside the fact that Roy Batty is one of the most intellectually and emotionally stimulating characters in science fiction (um, that is not to damn him with the faintest of praise). I assume he would later come to realize that as he did with Once Upon a Time in the West, but critics in that line of work need to critisize when they cannot praise, and I’m using the traditional definition of critisize, not ‘analyze.’ If a movie has one apparent problem, you’ll jump on it instead of viewing the work as a whole.

The problem is that the ‘weakness’ often cited in Blade Runner is intentional, but critics are fooled into thinking it was an artistic mistake.

“Seeing the movie again, even in this revised version, I still felt the human story did not measure up to the special effects.” (Ebert on the Director’s Cut)

Even if the human story was absent as Ebert had thought the first and second time reviewing the film, why does it have to exist to make the movie complete? Perhaps if it had aspirations of a human story and failed it would matter, but Blade Runner‘s story is so unconventional I don’t think that argument could be made. A formulaic Hollywood blockbuster with a boring conventional love story was 2009’s Star Trek. I didn’t care about the romance between Spock and Zoe Saldana, but that movie was still kickass regardless.

I think that’s where critisicm becomes subjective, and then that throws into question the validity of the medium. You might agree with Ebert when he says that special effects shouldn’t outweigh a human story, or you might agree with me and say that both have places in film. Arguments can be made for both, but I don’t like it when a critic steers somebody away because of their belief. Playing into this theme of special effects vs. humanity is the movie I always go back to – The Thing. Don’t let somebody tell you that the effects minimize the human story, because that might make you overlook it. Whether or not you agree that the effects outdo the script after watching it is inconsequential, the point is to watch it (because it’s awesome).

I hate to say this, but this issue of special effects vs. human story, at least in Blade Runner, sees the younger Roger Ebert ‘not getting it.’ Blade Runner is a philosophical look at humanity, and like its brethren in Solaris or 2001, it’s romantic or otherwise ‘human’ elements seem weak. Like I said earlier, this is intentional. But if critics don’t ‘get it,’ then movies after Blade Runner might not try to be so unconventional. Maybe Blade Runner gets slammed by critics and makes ostensibly zero dollars and zero cents, and maybe each subsequent cut of the movie is tampered with because somebody somewhere thinks everybody everywhere won’t understand.

This is when movies aren’t just passive entertainment – you have to be on the lookout for the stuff that makes Blade Runner good outside the production design. And maybe that’s an imperfection, that the philosophy is too cryptic. It was to me the first time I saw it, and certainly if I hadn’t researched Once Upon a Time in the West before watching it, I wouldn’t have understood that its post-modernism paralleled and enhanced the commentary on the passing of an era.

“The “human story,” as I think of it, involves practical tests to determine if an individual is a replicant or not, and impractical tests (such as love) to determine how much that matters to (a) people, if they are in love with a replicant, and (b) replicants, if they know they are replicants.” (Ebert on the Final Cut)

The whole Blade Runner Review Trilogy he’s got going shows that Blade Runner is a movie that defies initial impressions. You might watch it and be like, “what?” That’s what I did. I wasn’t necessarily sucked into the visuals, but I was distracted by the pace of the Director’s Cut. I was bored to tears, but that was before I came to appreciate production design and cyberpunk as a visual subgenre. Then I read the book, forgot the book, and watched the movie again after listening to some podcasts that told me to think a little bit. So I did.

I guess that’s why I’m gonna write this blog/novel about the movie – it really is the greatest science-fiction movie ever made, but it’s a complicated affair. What version do I watch? Why was it so boring? How is it linked to the book? What’s Soldier all about? …Heh, you weren’t thinking that last one…

In the end though, Ebert is a guy I respect. He’s one who likes good movies. I’m just the guy who takes them way too seriously.

For more on Blade Runner, check out The Blade Runner Directory

Blade Runner is a film whose echo can still be felt today. Bubblegum Crisis, Metal Gear Solid, Minority Report, AI, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Dark City, Natural City, Sky Blue, even Star Wars – they all take visual cues from the movie in some way, or in the case of Natural City, an entire plot and philosophy! I figure I’ll explore the movies and shows and video-games that were affected by Blade Runner before talking about Blade Runner, so that it is made known the magnitude of the film we’re dealing with…

One day, some guy in Japan saw Blade Runner and misinterpreted a lot of it. He got the visuals though, and some of the names of things. It was probably a fan sub. Anyway, he got to work, and Bubblegum Crisis was born.

There are many different spin-off series of the 8-episode OVA that I saw (through YouTube.com, no less) and I don’t know if it’s based on a manga or not. As kind of an okay-to-averange anime fan, I’m not really the best resource for these things anyway. While the original series is heavily informed by the look, the subject, and the style of Blade Runner, apparently later iterations like The AD Police mix Ghost in the Shell and Robocop in.

Add on top of that callouts to Battlestar Galactica and it’s almost unbelievable that modern Internet dorks didn’t made this, but real professionals. It’s so dangerously close to fan fiction – how could it carry such a name for itself? There’s a few reasons for that.

For starters, it’s pretty good. For a show about robot suits and robots, it’s decently entertaining, though I don’t know how much of that I have to owe to Fast Karate for the Gentleman bumping up the entertainment value by commenting on every single helicopter incident (all the helicopter pilots in the show, every episode, say “I’m going in for a closer look,” which heralds their deaths by robot laser). It’s also got a very naive mentality to it, something uncommon considering its subgenre. It exists in a world where the super-powered robot apocalypse is flanked by 80’s workout music and heroes who have a front as lengerie store owners.

80’s is probably the key word there. Just like the great films of our time, Commando, Total Recall, Die Hard, Robocop, Predator Bubblegum Crisis has that action movie feel because it combines good-to-gooder fight scenes with shenanigans of all varieties, totally forgoing anything that makes other better known cyberpunk anime good – intelligence, seriousness (that’s subjective of course). There are so many ridiculous things that happen in this show, it’s hard to believe that somewhere among the inspirations was a story by Philip K. Dick, arguably the hardcorest science-fiction author.

Bubblgeum Crisis, so named for the idea that the city (MegaTokyo) is on edge like a bubblegum bubble about to pop, transplants the Blade Runner look and some of the ideas into a Streets of Fire/Metropolis world where robots, created by the evil, evil, evil Genom Corporation, run rampant frequently, and it’s up to the vigilante, all-female, robot-suit clad squad known as the Knight Sabers to fight them!

What? I swear – Blade Runner the anime doesn’t do this show justice. For example, exploring any part of the show to any degree of depth as you would Blade Runner reveals some inconsistencies; how exactly do the Knight Sabers afford the most expensive most powerful armor suits on the planet?

And how are they vigilantes, you might ask, if they only fight robots, like Rick Deckard? Well in each episode someone who was ‘friends’ with our main character Priss (as opposed to Pris) gets killed in some way by Genom, and it’s up to the Knight Sabers to fight them! It seems to be revenge every episode, so I suppose that vengeance fueled their creation? Damn bad luck if they’re still in operation… Stop making friends, or confusing the word ‘friend,’ with ‘barely-an-acquaintence…’

The reason I say that the Japanese guy behind this (yeah I’m sure it was just one guy) misinterpreted Blade Runner is because the parallel is imperfect. Yes the cityscape is very derivative in Bubblegum Crisis, but I don’t see the connection with Genom to Tyrell, for example. Tyrell is amoral, not immoral. Genom wants to destroy the world with robots, and that’s why heroes have to fight them. Why the company is popular I don’t know. Tyrell the man didn’t anticipate Roy Batty and the Replicants, and is only out to make a whole lot of money.

But that’s whatever. Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t align with Blade Runner entirely because there’s no good reason it should (see: Natural City). It was just a good idea – add rocknroll, transforming motorcycles and the clichest villains ever and you have Bubblegum Crisis – check it.

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Ridley Scott himself has put an ‘end’ to one of the most infamous nerd arguments of all time – is C3PO gay? Ha, ha, ha! No, I’m just kidding. In fact, I recall seeing and immediately favoriting a YouTube.com video of Ridley Scott saying ostensibly “Yes, Deckard is a Replicant.” How many versions of Blade Runner exist that can attest to the idea that on this one insignificant point, director Scott could not make up his mind, wavering back and forth? Many.

 I myself have only seen the Director’s Cut, but am looking forward to the Theatrical Cut, especially for when Ford’s narration obliterates the drama of the final scene – one the best moments in SF movie history. 

Of course, to do what many, many others have already done – put in my two sense about the matter – I should probably have seen all of them. However, I honestly don’t want to get mixed up, not just yet. I want that one essential vision, the one that from what I understand reading a few books on the movie, represents the best of the collective interests of all the crew, not just Scott.

Two people thought up and published under the title Blade Runner before the movie. Smart guys, that title is amazing

 The director of course gets the final final say. That is, after Blade Runner made its money (lol) during its initial run, the studios were like “yeah sure” twenty years later when Scott was like, “let’s change this.” So Ridley Scott picks apart his masterpiece and makes Harrison Ford’s character what he cannot be, a robot. 

The question was initially raised among nerds when Rick Deckard, Ford’s character, has a dream about a unicorn – you read that right – and Edward James Olmos later on makes a unicorn origami. The thing is, the character Rachel is introduced to the universe as an experiment – she’s a replicant with implanted memories, and doesn’t know she’s a replicant. But Deckard knows it, and knows all her memories, even the deepest ones. So if Olmos, a fellow Blade Runner, knows that Deckard dreamt of unicorns – why not electric sheep? – he’s a replicant with implanted memories. He has to be.

 I liken this to those ‘theories’ about Inception I hear about, only indirectly. Apparently somebody thinks that Leonardo is being incepted at the whole time by Michael Caine and Juno to make him let go of Leonardo’s wife, and the evidence is there, man. Yes, the evidence for that is there, and that argument can be made and supported. But was that the director’s intention? I haven’t heard it from Nolan’s mouth, but I can say beyond a doubt, “no.”

I've only read this very long ago... I honestly don't really remember it

 All the elements that make up the evidence found in paragraph 6 are more important than the fans let on. In Inception, the point of the movie wasn’t Leo getting incepted at, it was ‘cool heist story.’ Blade Runner is a bit deeper than Inception, and the whole point, as PKD put forth in the original source text, is dehumanization. I read that the inspiration for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was Nazi stuff that Phillip K. Dick was studying. He was fascinated by the utter inhumanity on visceral display during these times, and decided to study that further in the book.

 What if we were put on the level of things that aren’t human? But wait, what is human? Could you kill something that isn’t human, but looks, sounds, acts, and thinks human? In the end, perhaps you could become one? Yes, Deckard does become a replicant by the end of Blade Runner. But not in the way that Scott thinks, it’s in the way that Phillip K. Dick thinks. You take the idea of the Replicant and break it down to its constituent parts: genetically engineered artificial person – devoid of ‘humanity.’

 Deckard has killed four of these, after retirement. Zhora and Pris’s deaths are heavily dramatized (that’s not the right word, is it) and frankly pretty disturbing. When Deckard is looking down at the retired Zhora in the shattered glass of the shop front window, he’s seeing a dead woman with two gaping bullet holes in her back – she died running for her life. Does it matter whether she was robot or human technically?

She quickly saw through Deckard's disguise, and then beat him up, and then donned a transparent rain coat and ran away

 As he continues his journey, the movie continues to hint that Deckard is maybe a replicant, culminating in the movie’s final moments, where he discovers the unicorn origami. But if this means that Deckard is a replicant the whole time? What’s the point? That was ultimately the greatest argument put forth against Scott’s cause that I heard. What’s the damn point?

 Let’s humor this for a second. Deckard is a replicant. He’s a replicant who was told to kill some replicants, and he’s been given fake memories of history of killing replicants. That’s cold, and could make a cool side-story, maybe a Blade Runner Gaiden or something, where a robot is programmed to kill other robots. Whatever, we got Soldier, which I enjoyed.

 So we got it, he’s a robot. But when he sits down at the end with Roy Batty and the villain – the vicious replicant – is contemplatively looking back, and doing something almost more human than human in its humanness: accepting death… What does that mean? That scene was made very thoughtful and dramatic for a reason. The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t like it, but that scene certainly stuck out to me. I loved it. I thought it was so cool how this character went from level-headed leader to psycho to human like that [snaps fingers].

 The character of Roy Batty is at the core of the movie, and if Deckard is a replicant, he defies what that character means, and ultimately, what the writers and even the director took from the source material to make: one of the greatest, most thoughtful science-fiction films of all time. Is that what Scott wants? Of course not. But then again, nowadays the poor guy is making inexplicable crap like Body of Lies and Black Hawk Down – seemingly gone are the days of Alien, Gladiator

I like Ridley Scott, though he is kind of hit or miss. But Blade Runner is a work of genius. The problem is, it’s the work of too many geniuses, all vying for control of the creative aspects of it. Now, I’m all for people fighting for what they believe in in a movie’s story – that’s pretty cool. But it’s really too bad if they’re doing it to inadvertently subvert the entire ideal behind it.

To the left is Sigourney Weaver, to the right... Ridley Scott (Smile, you two!)

(Watch the final say here)

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